Two women buried in the same grave – 102 years ago today in Panola County
Published 11:01 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023
By John Nelson
Before air conditioning and television brought us inside, Southern folks would sit out on their porches on summer evenings and talk. It was in those days that a lot of family history was passed on, and though maybe not as accurate as documentation now found on Ancestry.com, it was certainly a lot more personal.
On a hot, July evening around 1950, I was sitting on my grandparent’s porch. The air was so still that sounds were traveling quite a distance, and that reminded Granddaddy of another July evening in 1921 when the family was sitting on the same porch.
On that evening the family heard screams coming from the older Nelson place where Granddaddy’s father and mother, Elijah and Mary Nelson, lived with some younger children.
Daddy, who was a young lad at the time, ran inside and got a lantern, and he and Granddaddy made the half mile trip through field roads to Elijah’s house.
The scene they walked into had begun when Mary, who had never fully recovered from an earlier stroke, fainted at the supper table. Elijah picked her up and carried her to the bedroom while calling to Maggie Bradford, Mary’s daughter from a previous marriage, to get her mother a glass of water.
When Maggie didn’t appear with the water, Elijah walked back to check on her and tripped over her lifeless body. Maggie’s heart must have been weak, and the excitement had been too much for her.
The family cries brought on by Maggie’s death caused Mary to regain consciousness and inquire about the commotion. When told that her daughter had just died, she again fainted and soon expired herself. Within a few minutes, mother and daughter were both dead.
Some years ago, this family story came up in conversations with my cousin, the late Shirley Gee Busby, the daughter of Theo Nelson Gee. Aunt Theo was living in the Elijah Nelson house when her mother and half-sister died, and older readers of this paper will recall that she was the Panolian’s Tocowa correspondent for a number of years.
Shirley and I were concerned that there was no permanent marker for the two women buried in a single grave at Magnolia Cemetery. And even after Elijah was laid to rest beside them in 1934, no stone inscribed for all three had been erected. We decided it was up to us to get this done.
Since there were two versions of when the women died, we had to choose between July 26 or 27 to inscribe on the gravestone. We decided to go with the 27th since the late Annette Nelson Dugger had used that date in her family history published in the Panola County History.
Through some miscommunication, the stone was erected with July 7 engraved as the date of death, and though quite disappointed, Shirley and I decided to just sit back for a while since there was at least a marker where none had been before.
Shirley has since passed on, and it’s now time for me to have the stone corrected. But before taking this step, I decided to consult old Panolians for the correct date since I had heard that an article appeared at the time.
While most everyone knows that a local paper is indispensable for informing readers of everything from social events to the performance of their elected officials, fewer might appreciate its role in recording a community’s history.
But I must warn readers old enough to remember looking up things in encyclopedias that going back through old papers is a lot like that. It’s possible to get so engrossed in interesting articles as to forget what one was searching for. Though slowed by such distractions, I eventually spotted in the July 28, 1921 edition a column with the heading, “Mother and Daughter Buried in Same Grave.”
The article stated that the women died on Tuesday, and since the paper came out on a Thursday, as it would for decades afterwards, that meant the women had died on the 26th.
Other than documenting the date, the column added no details about the deaths that I didn’t know, but it was interesting to note that editor Wilbur Kennedy described the event as “one of the strangest occurrences ever enacted in this section.”
I’m sure that visitors entering the cemetery from Eureka street and seeing the stone up against the fence to their immediate left will be baffled. Upon reading what appears to be the usual husband/wife gravestone, they will see that two women who died on the same day are buried on the man’s left.
Those searching for an explanation might stumble across this column, and it might lead them back 102 years to the original article. Those taking this route are sure to find other interesting things to read.
John Nelson is a local historian and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com